Various Reformed denominations, including the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), joined with the Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday night to sign a historic, mutually agreed upon statement of belief about baptism.
The agreement on baptism represents a significant breakthrough in ecumenical relations since until now the Catholic Church has not always recognized baptisms that took place in Reformed denominations in part because of issues related to how the Trinity was referenced in the baptismal ceremony, according to a story in the Austin-American Statesman.
The result of many years of careful, steady work on the part of the CRC and the other groups, the agreement cleared up the issue involving the Trinity.
Replete with liturgy and a sprinkling of water as a sign of baptism, the ceremony at Saint Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in downtown Austin, Texas was part of the opening of the annual meeting of the interdenominational group Christian Churches Together — a strong backer of what is called the Common Agreement on Mutual Recognition of Baptism
Although the CRC Synod accepted and passed the document in 2011, it took until now for the formal ceremony involving all parties to take place.
Rev. Joel Boot, executive director of the Christian Reformed Church, signed the agreement on behalf of the CRC. He also offered a few remarks on the significance of the agreement.
In remarks he gave on Tuesday night, he said, “Together we affirm, as a sign of our unity and as a witness to ecumenical commitment, the practice of inviting the presence and, where appropriate, the participation of members of our respective communions in the celebration of Baptism.
“At the same time, we affirm our responsibility to respect the integrity of the distinct baptismal practices of the communions in which the rite of Baptism is administered . . .”
Before he left for Texas, he said, “I'm grateful that the CRC can be part of what is yet another move toward Christian unity,” he said before leaving for Texas.
“I am especially grateful for those in our denomination and in the other denominations who have come together and worked for so long on this joint statement on such a central element of our faith.”
Five CRC five representatives were involved in the interfaith discussions as part what was called the Reformed-Catholic Dialogue.
After the signing, Boot — and each of the heads of the Reformed denominations involved in the dialogue — offered prayers of intercession.
Besides the CRC representatives, the dialogue brought together theologians from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Reformed Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ to discuss ways in which beliefs on baptism converge.
After the signing ceremony, participants took part in a candlelight procession from the cathedral to nearby Central Presbyterian Church where there was a reception and a brief program.
During the reception, the heads of the Reformed denominations had a chance to briefly say a few words about the significance of this agreement for their respective denominations.
The Common Agreement on the Mutual Recognition of Baptism recognizes that a person baptized in the Catholic Church need not be baptized again if he or she joins a CRC congregation. In many ways, synod’s decision formalizes a practice and view that has been held in the CRC for many years.
The document states: “Together, we affirm, as a sign of our unity and as a witness to ecumenical commitment, the practice of inviting the presence and, where appropriate, the participation of members of our respective communions in the celebration of Baptism.”